Co-Written By Dr. P.S. Sahni & Shobha Aggarwal
The Kashmiris were promised a plebiscite after India’s independence but it has never come about. There is a U.N. resolution to this effect but it has been given a silent burial. All assurances given to the people of Kashmir by the Government of India and the ruling class parties in India have been flagrantly violated. There are between seven hundred thousand to a million strong army men based in Kashmir; the Kashmiris see this as an army of occupation. Draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act ensure a state of continued emergency.
The current situation is triggered by the killing on 8 July, 2016 of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the 21 year old commander of Hizbul Mujahideen from Tral, Kashmir during a brief ‘encounter’ with the Indian security forces in South Kashmir’s Kokernag. He had joined the ranks of militancy openly when he was 15 years old. He had advocated freedom of Kashmir from India. The Tribune dated July 10, 2016 reported that two lakh people across valley attended Burhan Wani’s funeral. This is an indication of his popularity and the cause he espoused. Despite the fact that an indefinite curfew had been imposed at that time; that mobile internet services had been blocked and all efforts had been made by the administration to stop the people traversing the roads within Pulaama to Tral; still a sea of humanity converged to the burial site. On the way the locals had arranged for water and snacks for those coming to attend the funeral. In the process many people had been severely beaten and sent back by the police, paramilitary and military personnel. Yet people risked being killed, injured or blinded by bullets and the rubber pellets used to disperse the crowd.
A quick research into the number of people attending the funerals of establishment leaders in India and Kashmir reveal that around two million people attended Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral when he was shot dead by right wingers; that around ten lakh people attended the funeral of the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who died in harness; that around two to three lakh people attended the funeral of Indira Gandhi the then Prime Minister of India when she was assassinated by her security guards; that tens of thousands of people attended the funeral of Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, when he was killed by militants; that about ten thousand people attended the funeral of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first home minister of India; that the funeral procession of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the first Prime Minister of Kashmir – who stood for Kashmir’s freedom and was in jail for about 11 years and prolonged periods of exile and house detentions – was miles long and the largest in living memory of Kashmiris, the number of people said to have attended was over a million; there was a poor attendance of people during the funeral of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Patron, Peoples Democratic Party and Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir; a few thousand had attended Mufti’s burial. In all fairness, funerals of establishment leaders ensure attendance by all concerned; the entire state machinery is geared into action to get the masses lined up for the funeral procession. In the case of revolutionaries dubbed as terrorists by the rulers the state machinery is used to ensure that as few people as possible attend the funeral procession. During the British rule in India, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death and executed clandestinely. These three had been dubbed as terrorists by the British government. Though they were brave revolutionaries who wanted complete freedom for all Indians, all three of these revolutionaries like Burhan Wani were in the age group of 22-24 years – not much different from that of Wani’s. Such was their popularity that upon their execution people in many states in India forsook their meal that day.
Since it is generally assumed that the number of people attending the funeral of leaders gives an idea of their popularity and the cause for which they stood, it should be applicable to all of the above people. In a sense the number represents a mini referendum on the leader and the cause espoused by him or her. It is just as well to add that no present day parliamentarian in India can hope to have a funeral attended by lakhs of people – whether he/she dies an accidental death or death due to natural cause or otherwise.
A disturbing report appeared in the Times of India dated 16 July, 2016 to the effect that in Kashmir:
“Locals alleged that an army helicopter fired at them and lobbed shells. They alleged that forces smashed window panes of houses in Drugmulla.”
There has so far been no denial by the Indian army. In view of the complete clampdown on the media including print media, people will be left to draw their own conclusions including whether war has been declared on Kashmir; in which case the United Nations and International Red Cross Society would have to move into action.
The only question foremost in freedom-loving people’s mind has been articulated by Shobhaa De in a weekly column in the Times of India dated 17 July, 2016 to wit:
“Let’s see if the present government has the guts to go ahead with a referendum to resolve the Kashmir crises once and for all. Let’s end the lingering pain in the region and allow Kashmiris live in peace with the dignity and harmony they are entitled to.”
But would the Indian Government follow suit? Doubts linger in the minds of all freedom lovers since the Indian state is perceived to be more colonial in orientation than the erstwhile British Indian rulers. Besides, the so called national press in India – both the print as well as the television channels – cover the Kashmir issue including the Azadi movement in a manner which is no different from the coverage by the embedded American journalists who travel with the U.S. army into its umpteen forays and wars. In both the situation the casualty is the truth. The truth is that the truth about the demands of Kashmiris has never been truthfully reported. The Indian press and the mainstream leaders never tire of raising the issue of radicalization of militants in Kashmir aided and abetted by the religious fervour as if this is a negative for the freedom fighters. Juxtapose this with the open declaration of support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Buddhists who reached India during the reign of Jawaharlal Nehru. They are treated as refugees – a euphemism for state guests. They have formed a government in exile in India. The Dalai Lama by all accounts is the head of the religious spiritual order of the Tibetan Buddhists clamouring for an independent Tibet to be carved out of a sovereign country like China. The Indian state cannot be seen to be not raising the issue of religious fervour inherent in the demand for an independent Tibet; yet make an issue of religious fervour in the context of Kashmir.
Undisputably Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris who alone have the right to decide their future.
[The writers are members of PIL Watch Group and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org]